Wednesday, April 15, 2015

HoustonFest 2015 in Galax, VA - May 1 & 2

Houston Caldwell was eighteen years old, but already well known in the bluegrass world, a young,enthusiastic, talented man, just barely out of boyhood. He had just returned from basic training in the Army, was a valued member of the Galax Fire Department, when he rode his motorcycle to Wilkesboro to attend the 2010 Merlefest banjo contest. On the way home, he was killed in an accident. We didn't know Houston, but we met his family at IBMA Fan Fest that September, where Kids on Bluegrass and many of his performer friends presented a moving tribute to him on Saturday morning. The first HoustonFest was held the following spring, on the weekend after Merlefest, and has grown each year since, becoming a major celebration dedicated to young people in bluegrass. It's one of the most exciting festivals we attend, filled with an upbeat celebration of Houston Caldwell's life through encouraging young bluegrass and old-time musicians, presenting  some of the most popular and exciting bands in bluegrass, many of whose members were Houston's friends. It's an event that's not only enjoyable, but inspiring, truly a "Celebration of Song & Service."

Kenneth, Hayden & Tess Caldwell

This year, in addition to the strongest lineup that HoustonFest has had since its inception, the event will be theme-based, celebrating the famed Bristol sessions of 1927, where Johnny Cash said, "The single-most important event in the history of country music," took place. During a ground breaking series of recording sessions held in July 1927 in Bristol, seventeen performers including Earnest Stoneman, the Carter Family, and Jimmie Rodgers recorded seventy-six songs, which became recognized as crucial to the development of country music as a commercial enterprise. Grammy winner and well-known record producer Carl Jackson has put together a tribute of the Bristol sessions including eighteen of the original songs in a CD called Orthophonic Joy performed by many of today's top bluegrass and country musicians. Many of those musicians will appear at HoustonFest this year, with two hour-long sets being devoted to this new recording. Many of these artists will present their own sets, too. It's an exciting concept generating the strongest lineup ever seen at HoustonFest.

Carl Jackson

The fields of Felts Park in Galax provide plenty of space for several stages offering special opportunities during the two days of HoustonFest. Camp Houston includes several areas dedicated to young people's picking and jamming.  Kids can come to try out instruments at the Petting Zoo and get a little very early instruction as an enticement to learn to play an instrument. The Banjo Stage, the Firehouse Stage, and the Camp Houston Youth Stage all feature young people's bands, workshops, and opportunities to jam during both days. Look at the performance schedule here for more detailed information. Space limits my opportunity to feature all the young bands and performers making presentations on these stages, but I can promise they'll keep attendees busy.

On the Main Stage
Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives

Marty Stuart has had a long and important career in country music, but his roots and heart are still deep in bluegrass. His stage show is one of the most entertaining there is, and it will be a treat to have him do a set of his own as well as a song in the Orthophonic Joy set on Friday.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

Bluegrass Hall of Famer and member of key bands (the Country Gentlemen, The New South, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver), Doyle Lawson remains a top performer as well as an iconic figure.

The Steep Canyon Rangers

Larry Cordle

"Cord" has been a standout as a singer/songwriter in both country and bluegrass music. He's a prime person to bring to this venue to celebrate the commercial advent of country music from before a time when it was broken into narrow segments.

Sierra Hull

Sierra Hull, longtime friend of Houston Caldwell and a regular performer, workshop participant, and jammer (below) at HoustonFest is a favorite here. 

Sierra (on fiddle) jamming in the field

for a more clear view, click the link above

There are a few hidden gems lying within this schedule, particularly two Workshops hosted by Virginia State Historian John Lohman on Saturday afternoon. "Saturday Night and Sunday Morn" features Doyle Lawson, Jesse McReynolds and the Chuck Wagon Gang discussing and (I suspect) demonstrating the importance of gospel music in traditional country and bluegrass music. The other workshop is one that's held each year as a few of Houston's friends who are now professional musicians get together on the Camp Houston Stage to reminisce about the Houston Caldwell they knew and remember, and to pick a little. 

The Jeff Little Trio

It's rare these days to find bluegrass, old-time, and country music at the same festival. The tendency to segment music into small, discreet genres has marginalized old-time and traditional country music, placing progressive bluegrass out of bounds, too. At HoustonFest you'll find all of these as well as jazz and swing.  Look for the Jeff Little Trio and The Harris Brothers for changes of pace.

The Harris Brothers

The HoustonFest Scene
The Church Sisters Sing
The National Anthem

Along Vendors Row

The Camp Houston Youth Stage

Audience at the Youth Stage

 The Main Stage

The Details

Tickets for this two day festival are $30.00. They may be ordered online here. There are limited camping available on site as well as plenty of campgrounds and motels in the Galax area. 

How to Get to Felts Park in Galax
place your locaction in the o space and hit return for a personalized map

Felts Park in Galax has a long and storied history as the home of the Old Fiddler's Convention, held annually in August, for the past 80 years. Now, HoustonFest has enlarged and expanded that reputation, combining history with youth, innovation with tradition. This event packs more into a two day period than any other festival we attend. It's impossible to highlight the wonderful things that happen here, to capture the inspiration that Houston Caldwell's short life and tragic passing has engendered. For aspiring young musicians, it has become a mecca in their efforts. For fans who wish to be on the inside of recognizing up-and-comers, HoustonFest is a must attend weekend. 

Houston Caldwell